PERIODIZATION IN JUDO TRAINING
By Mark Lonsdale, Judo Training Development
It is not uncommon to hear the term “periodization” thrown around in judo coaching clinics but, based on personal observation, few coaches or athletes really understand how periodized training works and even fewer actually apply it effectively.
Periodization is the process of breaking the training calendar into blocks or periods that coincide with anticipated performance gains for the athlete and the annual competition calendar. The theory is that by following a deliberate training program, while varying the type, volume, and intensity of the training, the athlete will arrive at a major championship in the peak of physical and mental condition. The added benefit is that the varied training cycles also maintain the athlete’s interest and motivation while limiting the probability for injury.
To better visualize periodized training cycles, think in terms of wave action with the waves getting progressively bigger. The goal is that the wave, or athlete’s performance, will peak at, or just prior to a major championship. The troughs between the waves are rest periods or periods of low intensity training that are critical for physical and mental recovery, and that allow the athlete to bounce back stronger than before.
Periodized training is divided into macro-cycles, meso-cycles and micro-cycles. Macro-cycles are the annual training plans that map out the athletes’ training for the entire year and, in the case of Olympians, may extend to two, three or four year training plans. Most Olympic training centers build there programs and athlete development around a quadrennial calendar.
Meso-cycles are the monthly training periods, often running in one- to two-month periods, but long enough to be able to measure improvements in an athlete’s performance. It is at the end of each meso-cycle that the athlete’s fitness and performance levels are measured and reassessed by the coach, and then adjusted for the next monthly cycle. Meso-cycles can also be adjusted to accommodate the off-season period, pre-competition periods, and championship season.
Micro-cycles are the shorter one- and two-week targeted training cycles designed to identify and strengthen specific aspects of the athlete’s technique, form, and conditioning. For example, the weekly planner for the athlete may include strength training early in the week, technical training mid week, and then combined competition tactics and mental preparation later in the week. If technical and strength training are to be done on the same days, then the technical training should be done prior to the strength training so that muscle fatigue does not interfere with the fine motor skills required for working on technique. An example would be trying to thread a needle after just pumping iron or trying to shoot a pistol accurately after just doing sixty pushups. .
As mentioned earlier, the rest periods, or periods of low intensity training, are critical for physical and mental recovery. Known as super-compensation, and if timed correctly, immediately following a recovery period the athlete will return to training stronger or faster than before. However, if the rest periods are poorly timed, or too short, then performance will continue to deteriorate. It is up to the coach and athlete to ascertain the ideal amount of rest for optimum recovery and bounce back. For some athletes, taking an entire month off at the end of the season can set their performance levels back two months when they return to training, so they opt for shorter rest periods.
By varying the type, volume, and intensity of the training the athlete remains fully engaged and invested in the process. Changing the focus and pressure of the training sessions also keeps the training interesting and avoids stagnation. In judo this can be done by breaking up the hard randori training days with sessions that focus more on technical and tactical skills or competitive analysis. The days with no hard randori also give bruised shins and tired muscles time to recover. As most judoka are aware, too much hard randori beats the body down, but after taking a week off you return to the mat reinvigorated and motivated to give a hundred percent.
While many coaches and training centers have developed basic periodization templates for their athletes and particular events, periodized training should also allow for individualization of the training plan. There is no argument that individual athletes progress at different rates based on age, experience, fitness, gender, and genetics. As such, training plans for female athletes will vary from their male counterparts, just as training junior athletes is very different to training world class senior competitors. The training plans also need to accommodate fulltime athletes versus those who still go to school or have to hold down a job.
In applying this to judo, it is necessary to first look at the annual competition calendar to see where and when the athletes need to be at optimum performance levels. It is then necessary to run a pre-training assessment of each athlete to see where he or she stands in terms of general fitness, judo experience, strength, stamina, technical skills, tactical ability, and mental toughness. Based on this assessment the coach may decide that it is unreasonable to have the athlete performing at championship levels in this calendar year, and that the next year’s championship would be a more reasonable goal. But in the mean time, periodized training can still be built around various local, regional, and national events to gain experience and mental toughness.